The ocean covers nearly three quarters of our planet, yet humans have probed a mere 5 percent of it. To better explore its greatest depths, scientists will soon board the revamped Alvin, the workhorse of human-operated deep-submergence vehicles. Owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, the sub has logged 4,664 dives since 1964. It has explored the Titanic wreck 12 times, retrieved a lost live H-bomb, and survived a swordfish attack. Next month, engineers will begin sea trials to scrutinize its seven-year-long $40-million update (still cheaper than the $50-million-plus it would have cost to build a sub from scratch). New features include a larger cockpit with more windows, wider-reaching arms, and HD cameras. Alvin's team also started upgrading the vehicle to withstand greater pressures. After a second overhaul, the submersible will be able to dive 30 percent deeper, to four miles—far enough to explore 98 percent of the seafloor.
1) The sub Alvin stays buoyant with the help of syntactic foam, now rated to go four miles underwater. The foam is composed of billions of glass air bubbles the size of powdered sugar, encased in resin.
2) A life-support system includes a scrubber that removes carbon dioxide from the air and tanks of extra oxygen.
3) An 18 percent larger, seven-foot-diameter personnel sphere holds a pilot and two scientists (one more scientist than any other research sub). To ensure that the sphere can withstand the 10,000 pounds per square inch of pressure at four miles deep, builders modeled the stress it would experience underwater at half a million different locations across its surface.
4) A new hard drive can hold the 1 to 1.5 terabytes of data scientists expect to collect on each dive—an improvement over the VHS tapes and laptops previously used.
5) Alvin received three two-megapixel HD video recorders and a 14-megapixel still camera. All of them use LEDs to illuminate deep seascapes and their inhabitants.
6) New horizontal hinged sections extend Alvin's manipulator arms, increasing their reach by 90 percent, to 114 square feet.
7) Specialized experimental tools include drills for sampling rock, chemical sensors to analyze deep-sea vents, and a unique jellyfish-sucking "slurp" gun to collect these specimens.
8) Engineers made the original Alvin purely for observation and tacked on sampling equipment as an afterthought. Now a modified frame, including a stronger front platform, doubles the carrying capacity for tools and samples to 400 pounds.
9) Three forward-facing seven-inch-diameter windows have been reoriented to give the scientists views that overlap with the pilot's. Two five-inchers now provide port and starboard visibility.
10) The sub is powered by inexpensive 5,000-pound lead-acid batteries—the same type used since its first dive. But it could go on longer missions after new lithium-ion models pass safety tests to prove that they won't catch fire.
11) To record data from each mission, Alvin's mother ship, Atlantis, has been upgraded from CDs and DVDs to a hard drive. The ship, which dates from 1997, has a customized hangar and crane to transport the sub.
Check out more about Alvin's history here.
In reference to Item #10) The sub is powered by inexpensive 5,000-pound lead-acid batteries—the same type used since its first dive. But it could go on longer missions after new lithium-ion models pass safety tests to prove that they won’t catch fire;
I had an "ah-ha" moment when I read this one because I live in the Seattle metro area and happen to be an IT consultant at Boeing. Now the revamp of the sub can learn from the Boeing 787 problems.
Regardin item 8. The General Mills engineers did not design the ALVIN solely for viewing with the sampling equipment as an afterthought. Viewing was certainly the primary purpose; however, mechanical arms were proposed to permit useful work such as the collection of solids and liquids. General Mills had adapted their mechanical arms, designed for nuclear hot cells, for use in the marine environment, on such vehicles as RUM, Trieste, Aluminaut, et al. Discussions with the oceanographers at WHOI, Scripps, ONR pointed to the need for a vehicle that could reach 6000 foot depths and could do useful work. Based on these discussions, Bud Froehlich, an aeronautical engineer, started to design a small two man vehicle, which, after discussions with ONR, WHOI, et al evolved into the final ALVIN design. Swede Momsen of ONR funded the program and WHOI would be the user. With limited funds available, ONR was able to fund only one mechanical arm. General Mill bid the program on a fixed price basis for about $590,000.
(I am probably the only remaining individual involved in the ALVIN program having first hand knowledge of its design and sales)
Regarding item 8 comments above. Sorry I forgot to sign it. My name is Raymond I. Hakomaki. I worked at General Mills with Froehlich, serving as technical liason with WHOI and ONR personnel during the entire program.
The real reason they upgraded Alvin was so they could go find the aliens at the bottom of the ocean near the Bermuda Triangle :P
For more info on that topic checkout this link: http://www.openminds.tv/author/admin/
And remember eveyone:
Have fun, Have Nukes!
Nice to see it maintained and upgraded. Around the world, along the coast lines are many ancient cities made of monolithic stones, cut with precision. Yes, much about the world needs further exploring!!!
I just created this account for the sole purpose of this comment, (To be fair, I'm on this site daily, I should have made it long ago) but where has Robot been?!? AnyIcon just recently made the account and has posted in just about every article... Hmmmm Robot? Is that you?
I am "Any Icon" I choose to be, and I am knew to POPSCI.
What are your thoughts about the article?
I am a robot! Beep beep boop Magotts!
And Remember everyone!
Have fun, Have Nukes!
"What are your thoughts about the article?"
That is a very Robot thing to say... Now I'm convinced. Fear not Robot, I am a fan.
Anyways, my thoughts? I don't understand why this hasn't been done sooner. I think we should be investing in research that applies to reaching other planets and establishing bases and such; But why not explore the other 95% of the oceans first, which is... what? 66% of earth? (95% of 70%)
Also misspelling new is a very Robot thing to do. I expected a comment correcting yourself with a *snort* added for good measure.
Hmm why not throw in an extra 10 million plus to build a new sub. Then they would have 2 subs... Unless Alvin is no longer safe for dives and has technological secrets that prevent it from being auctioned
notfree25 my thought exactly. even if the old alvin was scrap seems an extra 10mil could bring other improvements too.
Why not offer a cash prize of $20million to any private company that can build a better replacement?
So for 40 mil, how much better is it going to be against swordfish? For as much as it's got in it now, plus 40 mil; it should be able to fight one on top of the water on it's tail, like in a real swordfight. And do fast pivots around the offending fish to make two gills one, from behind. Yeah. Swordfish steaks courtesy of Alvin. That's the ticket. We'll teach those swordfish.
So does Alvin get a sword, so it can defend itself against the swordfish with honor or does it just blind them with high powered lighting schemes and strobes while it mauls and maims them to death? How does swordfish insurance work?
So what happens if you get attacked by the Ukrainian Assassin Dolphins with guns? Is that covered under swordfish insurance? That's gotta be even worse than swordfish to try to prove to an insurance adjuster.
Oh, and PopSci; and to the military; We know that Alvin has been mobilized to assist in Naval operations before, and on downed nuclear subs as well. We know typical payload carry characteristics of the subs in reference. Surely we didn't detonate billions in nuclear weapons when Alvin is proven at retrieving them?